Of the currently available blu-ray discs of Otello this is the best of the lot. The singers are all good, the sets "inoffensive", costumes excellent, lighting fine etc. But to me what makes this Otello rise above all others is Carlo Muti. He has had a long career and whenever he is on the podium "magic" happens. He now directs my hometown orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and they have really brightened up recently. I've heard dozens of Otellos over the years led by the great conductors of the time Levine, von Karajan, Solti etc. It seeems they all appreciate this master work with its deft use of slight-of -hand harmonics clearly and forward looking composition. Yet for me Muti really makes the star, the orchestra, "sing". This performance at the 2008 Saltzburg Festival had as it's stars the Wiener Philharmonic and Staatsoperchor. As he has in the past, Muti used the modifications Verdi made for a performance at the Paris Opera for the Act 3 finale. And I must say it was absolutely chilling in its effect. The close of Act 3 was one of the most dramatic moments I've ever experienced in my sixty years in opera . Terrific!
The Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko has a grand, big, heldentenor type voice but is a triffle young to be doing mature tenor roles. However he carried through very well though (a blue-eyed Moor must be a very rare thing). His acting was excellent, his singing spot-on. He certainly fulfilled Muti gamble of using him.
Marina Poplavskya was completely enchanting as Desdemona. She has classic angelic features as fragile as a porcelain figurine. Her acting was excellent from the innocent love child of Act 1 & 2 to the innocence betrayed in Act 3 & 4. Her voice is pure of tone and I think the most believable Desdemona I've ever heard. Her notes are pure and strong and yet she has so much reserve at her command. She is rightly one of the best singers of the day.
Carlo Alvarez was fine as a singer but less of an actor for the most part in the role of Iago. But Iago according to Cinzio Giraldi, the author of the story from which Shakespear fashioned his play was 'An ensign of most hansome presence, but the most villainous nature'. But Alvarez lacked the 'villainy' voice and 'handsome face' that made James Morris such a great and penetrating Iago on the James Levine, Domingo, Met 1995 version. When Alvarez recited his 'credo in Dio crudel' I did not get a chill. Even in the last Act when his villainy is discovered he did not seem involved.
There are several 'director tricks' I didn't think necessary or in good taste; the bloody hand of Otello and Iago, the captive Moorish boy etc. But all in all it was a great dramatic experience.
The best touch of staging was at the end of Act 3 where the glass coffee table on which the action has taken place cracks in two and the passed-out Otello rolls down and off in a heap. Iago is on the raised part and points to Otello and says 'Ecco il leone!'. WOW! That is theatre!